My wife, Jolanda, is a kitchen magician. She has been cooking since 6 years of age, but, being a modest person, denies she has anything worthwhile to teach others.
I know better, so have convinced her that her grandkids will LOVE to have a written record of how she does it. So, a new book is born, working title Jolanda’s Kitchen Magic. We’ll write it as the inspiration strikes (ouch!). You can now read the first component.
Here is a horrendous thought: when you eat yoghurt, you are eating something that’s alive! But it’s OK, eating the little critters in yoghurt doesn’t kill them. Think of them as recruits to join the army within your digestive system that fights off bad bugs and keeps you healthy.
Jolanda and I eat yoghurt with our breakfast every morning (when else would you eat breakfast, right?) and so far no lactobacilli have complained.
You can buy yoghurt but it’s much cheaper to make your own, and you can be sure it’s free of mysterious additives that won’t be alive, but might well do you harm.
All you need is milk, and a live culture of suitable lactobacilli. The milk can be of the kind that feeds babies of some mammal, but also it can be from almonds, coconut and other vegetable matter. Because Jolanda used to be Dutch when she was young, we use the real stuff. And because we need to keep our cholesterol down, it’s light milk, with the fatty stuff removed.
Never mind refrigeration, the milk you buy could well have some wild beasties in it—yeasts, bacteria, gremlins or hobgoblins. They’re the things responsible for having milk go off after a while. If you boil the milk, the gremlins and hobgoblins are smart enough to run away, leaving a nice fresh home for the yoghurt bugs to move into. This is the one tricky part of the exercise, because if you turn your back at the wrong time, the milk can climb out of the pot and run away. You need to hover over it and take it off the heat the moment it starts to boil.
Only, our friendly bacteria also dislike being boiled, so now the milk needs to cool to 43 degrees Celsius (110 degrees Fahrenheit). That’s just the right temperature to have them breed as fast as they can.
We have glass jars that hold exactly one litre of liquid. That’s four-and-a-quarter 8-ounce cups if you don’t know what a litre is, but actually the exact amount doesn’t matter that much. Put in two table spoons of yoghurt, and the cooking part is done.
First time you do this, use commercial yoghurt. The smallest available quantity will do. It should be flavour-free, with as few additives as possible, preferably even less.
Next time, you can use a couple of spoonfuls from your last batch, but you can’t keep this up forever. This is because yoghurt is a mixture of two kinds of lactobacilli, which grow at different rates. After three of four repetitions, your product will taste sour. Since a 150 gram container of new yoghurt makes three batches, Jolanda prefers to invest the horrendous sum of $1.00 or $1.50 for three or four weeks’ worth of guaranteed delicious taste.
Finally, we need to give the little beasties time to multiply. This means we keep it as close to the optimal temperature of 43 degrees Celsius as we can overnight, say 8 hours.
In the olden days, we used to put the jar in multiple wrappings of insulation, but that’s a hit-and-miss affair, leading to occasional failure. (No real tragedy: just reboil the milk, let it cool to 43 degrees Celsius, and put in a couple of new spoons of starter.)
Then one day Jolanda found a Yoghurt Maker in an opp shop (you may know these treasure-houses as thrift shops). This is an insulated container with a lid, just the right size for the 1-litre jar, with a second insulated container with a lid around it. Put the freshly filled jar in with its lid in place but not closed, put the two lids on, and let the little bacilli breed.
There are other standard ways of keeping the temperature just right for long enough. You can buy a device that is an insulated container above hot water, or a thermostat-controlled electrical thingie, but ours is the cheapest way, and works fine.